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Comic Book Legends Revealed #457

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Welcome to the four hundred and fifty-seventh in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and fifty-six. This week, did Northstar nearly get his own solo comic book by John Byrne over twenty years ago? Does Marvel own a trademark on the word “Marvel” in comic book titles? And how did Peter David celebrate the firing of a nemesis of his in the Star Trek licensing department?

Let’s begin!

NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).

COMIC LEGEND: Marvel nearly had a Northstar ongoing series from John Byrne over 20 years ago.

STATUS: I’m Going With True

My pal at JohnByrneDraws suggested that I feature this one.

John Byrne helped to change the landscape of the Marvel Universe when he created the first gay Marvel superhero, Northstar, in the pages of Alpha Flight.

Interestingly enough, Byrne almost made ANOTHER first a decade or so later during his second stint at Marvel during the late 1980s/early 1990s. Byrne nearly launched an ongoing series starring Northstar!

Byrne told the story on his forum that he was approached by a Marvel editor for a duo book starring Northstar and, oddly enough, Ironclad, the Thing analogue in the villainous version of the Fantastic Four, the U-Foes (Byrne had just recently used the U-Foes, so maybe that’s why it piqued the editor’s interest)…

Ironclad would be dating Northstar’s twin sister, Aurora, which would be the connection between the two. The book would be dubbed North and South. The book would display Northstar’s sexuality the same way that any straight character would be handled. It certainly wouldn’t be hidden.

As Byrne recalls it, it was soon after Andy and Adam Kubert got big raises to stay with Marvel, so it would have to be around late 1991/early 1992. Byrne says that he asked for roughly half their then-current pay rate to both write and draw (pencils AND inks) the series, but Marvel ultimately said no, citing that it wasn’t financially doable even with Byrne taking a lower rate. Byrne and the editor suspected there were reasons other than the monetary ones that Marvel cited, but I guess we’ll never know.

Marvel eventually DID give Northstar his own mini-series in 1994 but it really didn’t do anything with his sexuality at all.

northstar1

Thanks to JohnByrneDraws for the suggestion!
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Check out the latest edition of my weekly Movie/TV Legends Revealed Column at Spinoff Online: Did former First Lady Barbara Bush really write an apology letter to Marge Simpson!?
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40 Comments

Brian from Canada

February 7, 2014 at 9:48 am

I always thought that DC opted to name their book Shazam! because Marvel had their Captain Marvel on shelves at the same time — and didn’t want to cloud the choice between the competition.

I always thought that DC opted to name their book Shazam! because Marvel had their Captain Marvel on shelves at the same time — and didn’t want to cloud the choice between the competition.

No, Marvel got the trademark on the name in the late 1960s and quickly treated it like a guarded treasure. Marvel POUNCED on the name once M.F. Enterprises stopped using it. At the time that DC got the rights to use the character, Captain Marvel was still one of the most famous comic book superheroes around, so they certainly wouldn’t willingly pass up the chance to promote the character by name.

Wow, Blaise’s look in her first appearance is a blatant cop from the illustration stylings of Patrick Nagel.

Also, the Landorian council room has the same window as Dr. Strange’s house.

ParanoidObsessive

February 7, 2014 at 9:58 am

Marvel sent a similar cease and desist letter to Valiant when they debuted X-O Manowar

Reminds me of how Marvel went after Defiant over Plasm/Warriors of Plasm being too close to Plasmer. That whole deal seemed way too deliberately vindictive/manipulative at the time, and left a really sour taste.

It definitely came across more like Marvel trying to crush a potential rival early than it did them simply defending a trademark.

While I generally agree that their motives with regards to Plasm seemed more to hurt a new possible rival, there they at least had a trademark on the name Plasmer, so Plasm IS pretty darn close, although Defiant actually ended up winning that case (it likely helped a LOT that they changed the name to Warriors of Plasm before releasing the book).

Just how far did the idea of a Northstar/Ironclad buddy-duo (or whatever it was gonna be) series go before someone in editorial made everyone realize that it would never sell?

Seriously, what a random pairing.

Just give me a U-Foes series already! They’re one of the most underrated misused villains team at Marvel!

Thanks for the shout out!

Marvel really made a mess with Northstar. In the early John Byrne Alpha Flight stories, you didn’t have to do too much reading between the lines to guess at Northstar’s sexuality. It was never overt, but there were enough allusions to give you a clear picture. Then, Marvel tried to bury that after Byrne left, then decided to embrace it for publicity value. I remember the big announcements, then saw the laughably bad story, with his coming out, in the midst of battle. That thing was more ham-fisted than any ABC After-School Special! Meanwhile, at DC, Mark Waid had rather more quietly revealed the Pied Piper as gay, in the pages of the Flash, and Neil Gaiman had included gay characters with little noise. Marvel then got gunshy, after the national publicity, and stayed far away from Northstar’s sexuality for a while. That was not a good period for Marvel, to say the least.

While I sympathize with Peter David (especially in his battles with Arnold), he does seem to court these battles and controversies. Quite often I agree with him, but he does seem to revel in playing Don Quixote. The fight with Image got downright silly, culminating in a farce of a “debate” between David and Todd McFarlane. It started out with David calling the Image gang on the carpet, about some of the statements they made about interference from writers and who was the creator of what. David came to the defense of Louise Simonson and hat some pretty spot on comments. Then, it descended into a playground fight. To his credit, David tried to distance himself, briefly, but he rose to the bait eventually. Thankfully, David moved on after the debate and some of the more juvenile Image members grew up a little.

I forgot to mention, only a few members of Image were at the heart of this battle, not all of them.

Another little EasterEgg in the Star Trek book is that Tuchinsky is named (and drawn) after then-Marvel assistant editor Sara Tuchinsky.

Nice to see some Rod Whigham art too, I’ve always thought he was underrated. He done some great GI Joe stuff with (I think) Andy Mushynsky on inks.

If I’m your pal, does that make me Jimmy Olsen to your Superman? :)

I believe Piper came out during Messner-Loebs’ run. It was well done either way (“I don’t know any super-villains who are guy, except me. But of course, you could tell, right?”).
The David injokes in that Trek story feel awfully pointless.
I did enjoy the Northstar mini–as I recall while he didn’t get to date, they were quite clear about his orientation, which is why the villain wanted him dead. I also liked the handling of his history as a Quebec secessionist terrorist (which like Plastique at DC probably qualifies for a Foggy Ruins entry now).
I’ve got to say I didn’t pick up on Northstar’s sexuality at all in the earl issues, although it was yes, obvious once I knew.

Marvel did the same thing to Jim Lee/Image with the Gen 13 series. Gen 13 was initially going to be titled Gen X, there are some promo images in one of my Previews catalogs for it, and Marvel got them to change the name since they were going to start publishing Generation X. Though I think Generation X started almost a year later.

I’m going with the Marvel heads still being upset with Lee’s departure from them a couple years prior on that one though.

Wow, Blaise’s look in her first appearance is a blatant cop from the illustration stylings of Patrick Nagel.

Beat me to it. It’s so obvious I wonder if it was some kind of inside joke? Also, it makes a book about the future seem way too dated.

David’s Trek always reads as fairly impressive, but man do I wish he had people complimenting his solid storytelling with some consistently decent artwork.

The only arcs I’ve been able to get through are the ones that had some consistently decent artwork in them.

I wonder if Modesty Blaise is an ancestor of David’s R. J. Blaise? Not close enough necessarily to be twins, but certainly there are some shared characteristics there…

@ Jeff Nettleton:

Marvel really made a mess with Northstar. In the early John Byrne Alpha Flight stories, you didn’t have to do too much reading between the lines to guess at Northstar’s sexuality. It was never overt, but there were enough allusions to give you a clear picture. Then, Marvel tried to bury that after Byrne left, then decided to embrace it for publicity value. I remember the big announcements, then saw the laughably bad story, with his coming out, in the midst of battle. That thing was more ham-fisted than any ABC After-School Special!

To be fair, almost anyone looks bad compared to John Byrne on the subject of sexuality in superhero comics. Byrne was a master of suggesting just enough for a more mature audience to get the point, while not being so explicit as to be totally inappropriate for a younger audience. Northstar was treated exactly the same way in ALPHA FLIGHT as the various hetero characters.

Brian from Canada

February 7, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Sorry, Brian, I wasn’t talking about the trademark. I was talking about the fact that Marvel had a title called Captain Marvel at the time of the Shazam launch — and as a result, DC called their book Shazam! It was nothing about the character, which was called Captain Marvel in all the Filmation works which were also called Shazam! as well (the live action and the animation).

Had they both had books called Captain Marvel, it might have caused confusion. But calling it something else at the time on TV and in animation worked to help sell it under a different brand.

Right, but I’m saying that when they got the rights to Captain Marvel, he was a LOT more famous than Marvel’s Captain Marvel, so if DC had the option, I am sure that they would have titled their comic “Captain Marvel” even if there was a competing version out there.

Maybe Arnold didn’t want to use RJ Blaise because nobody cares about RJ Blaise?

There’s “nobody cares about RJ Blaise” and there’s “Remove all recurring characters who aren’t in the movies from the comics,” which is what happened.

I believe Next Men had to become John Byrne’s Next Men due to the similarity to the X-Men title as well. Marvel used to be pretty agressive with that.

Brian – I’m not sure if this qualifies as an urban legend but I thought I would ask: When X-Factor launched the whole conceit was that the original X-Men were posing as mutant hunters. When Louise Simonson took over, it felt like this was done away with pretty quickly, or at least they started showing the flaws in that plan (it fanned the flames of hatred and fear), setting up the Hodge reveal. As a kid, i always thought that she must have just decided it was a terrible idea, but was that the case, or was the Hodge betrayal and the “this was a bad idea” part of the plan all along? Would certainly answer a long held curiosity for me if you could get to the bottom of it. Thx.

Hadn’t Marvel sued over the use of The Masked Marvel as the name of a hero in Malbu’s revival of some golden age character?

Raspberry Jam Blaise – name courtesy of Gwyneth Paltrow, outfits designed by Duran Duran

I heard back in the day that the reason Marvel went after X-O Man of War was because of the logo of the book. The original logo was created in such a way that when you covered up the right half of the cover it read:
X-
Man

Northstar and Ironclad? Were they just picking characters out of a hat to star in a team-up book?

Is it possible that Dc should they be motivate to could leagally question wether the Captain Marvel copyright should have been granted to Marvel Comics. If suddenly they were to wish to actually restore the character to the prominence that once existed would force of law potentially give more weight to an argument in behalf of dc. But in reality Dc never seems to really be serious about retoring Marvel.

Is it possible that Dc should they be motivate to could leagally question wether the Captain Marvel copyright should have been granted to Marvel Comics. If suddenly they were to wish to actually restore the character to the prominence that once existed would force of law potentially give more weight to an argument in behalf of dc. But in reality Dc never seems to really be serious about retoring Marvel.

How would they be able to question it? When Marvel trademarked the character’s name, DC did not even own the rights to PUBLISH Captain Marvel comics, let alone own the character itself. Marvel had the name to itself for roughly five years. So they were on pretty solid ground when it came to abandonment – no one had put out Captain Marvel comics in nearly two decades by the time Marvel began doing their own Captain Marvel. And they haven’t ceased doing a Captain Marvel comic ever since. They are on very solid ground with regards to their trademark on Captain Marvel.

As others have pointed out, Blaise’s outfit is peak 80s. I’ve had “Rio” playing in my head since I saw it.

Marvel didn’t sue Malibu, over Masked Marvel. The letter page in issue 4 of The Protectors answers a question about the series, as published, and the previews seen in Comics Scene magazine (and elsewhere). They stated that they changed the name, since Marvel had used it. I don’t remember coming across a Masked Marvel at Marvel Comics; but, they may have been more afraid of just using the word Marvel. Fantom of the Fair was changed to Gravestone to avoid potential problems with The Phantom, which would have meant trouble with King Features Syndicate, who also have big guns. They made it sound like it was an internal decision, not in response to legal threats and I don’t recall any reputable source asserting that they had been threatened. Incidentally, the previews on that book were very misleading. They used artwork from Clarke Hawbaker and Jerry Bingham, that led you to believe they were doing art for the book, when the reality was they were doing covers and promotional work. That soured me rather quickly on the book, not to mention the rather pedestrian writing. It was a good idea that suffered in the execution. It soon became moot when Malibu put all of their eggs in the Ultraverse basket. I met Hawbaker at a convention and he said he was surprised as to how much use they made of his covert art that he understood when people thought he was drawing the book. AC Comics used to do similar things, with covers by people like Pat Broderick, George Perez, Jerry Ordway, and Paul Gulacy, then much more amateurish artwork in the interior.

In regards to Captain Marvel, we keep getting caught up in confusion between copyright and trademark. Marvel owns the trademark for Captain Marvel, for both their version of the character and for the use as a comic book title. DC owns the copyright to the Fawcett and DC Captain Marvel/Shazam stories and a trademark for the original Captain Marvel, though it is held under the name Shazam. (they might have a trademark for the phrase “The Original Captain Marvel.), and Marvel owns the copyright for their Captain Marvel stories. Trademarks cover logos, character likenesses and names, magazine titles, and unique designs. Copyrights cover the individual stories. What we are talking about here is trademark. Marvel’s legal threats or potential legal threats have been about trademarks. A copyright violation would be the unauthorized reprinting of a Marvel story, with the names changed (or kept the same). For instance, if a website reprinted the entirety of Avengers #1, without Marvel’s permission, they are in violation of Marvel’s copyright. If they use the Avengers logo without the proper notices and permission, but not the story, then they could be in violation of the trademark. Where it also gets confusing is the “fair use” laws. It has been upheld that reviewers have the right to make limited references to copyrighted works, for the purpose of review. This is how you can have a page or two of artwork in a review or article, but not the whole story.

I work in a bookstore, and we sell dvds. We have a license to show trailers for movies, which are provided by the studios. However, we cannot show the entire movie, as that constitutes a public performance of the film, which is not covered by our license. Also, we have to pay fees for music performances to ASCAP, even if they are original pieces. We have to report these performances to our home office, so they can pay the necessary fees.

It’s interesting to note that all of the books that were mentioned here that Marvel tried to cease and desist were ones worked on by former Marvel creators — I assume it’s Moore and Davis on Marvelman (or at least were working on the Warrior version), Shooter on X-O and Plasm, and Byrne on Next Men. I’m not sure of the timeline, if Moore and Davis were still on Captain Britain or not, but I’m assuming there.

Which reminds me, speaking of name changes, have you ever featured a bit about the Marvel UK character that needed a name change due to a lawsuit?

I like how in that last page, Blaise makes it clear that she and Kirk were bangin’, and the reveal was during pillow talk. (“You lay there. You swore you wouldn’t say if I told you.”) Unless it was already clear in previous pages. (Also, it’s Kirk, so y’know, bangin’ is his thing.)

Marvel also hassled Dave Stevens on his character the Rocketeer, as they had some obscure old villain characters called the Three Rocketeers.

According to John Byrne, the name of the Next Men series was always John Byrne’s Next Men. He got a call from Marvel about the presumed similarity of the titles, but when he pointed out the full title to them, that basically ended it.

And yes, Kirk and Blaise consummated their relationship in that special.

The hint I most remember about Northstar’s sexuality in the original John Byrne Alpha Flight run was in the very first arc was them running into “an, um…old friend” of Northstar’s, and Northstar was confused as hell that this “old friend” had since fathered a child. I had always wondered if readers were just more naive back then, but Jeff Nettleton’s comments suggest it was mostly Marvel trying to pretend they were.

Anyway, any discussion about trademarks and C&Ds is difficult to follow without distinguishing between ® and ™.

Did I miss the name of the artist on the first Star Trek strip up there, not Rod Whigham?

@John Trumbull
I believe the hassle didn’t come about until the Rocketeer movie was in production. I don’t recall exactly, but I believe that was, again, a letter from Marvel lawyers. Nothing came of it, so I assume a quick illustration that Marvel was ok with the Eclipse graphic novel, the Pacific and Eclipse comics, and the second series at Comico and Dark Horse put an end to such talk. I would suspect Marvel would have had a tough time convincing a judge that the movie was a violation, but the previous comics weren’t.

Marvel, in this period, was under the control of the McAndrews investment group and made a lot of dumb decisions (though the Marvelman issue was earlier than that, either under Cadence or New World).

In regards to Northstar, if I recall correctly, Byrne, or a subsequent writer was leading up to an AIDS storyline, but that things changed after a creative talent change, and suddenly Northstar was some sort of elf or fairy (I think they said fairy, which is no small irony) and that it was related to that, dropping any hint of his being gay. I wasn’t a reader during this period and am recalling based on an article, so chime in anyone who read those storylines.

It never ceases to amaze me that the major comic publishers are fine with ever increasing levels of violence, but get so squeamish about any hint of sex, hetero or otherwise. Not that they are any different from the networks or the MPAA… Maybe that’s why I have gravitated more to European works in recent years, since they treat their readers like adults.

I think it should be noted that Peter David’s anger was not merely over R J Blaise being forced out of the series but rather due to the removal being in the middle of a story and he wasn’t, at the time, allowed to mention her again to explain why she had abruptly vanished.

Alexa, the bit I remember is Vindicator’s off-hand comment that while lots of women flock to Jean-Paul as a star athlete he doesn’t seem to take much interest.
Jeff, yes, plans to have Northstar dies of AIDS got switched to him being some kind of Asgardian elf dying from his time on the mortal world (or something to that effect) thereby eliminating any supposedly squicky discussions of …. that.

I’m not a native speaker. Can anyone tell me what “writing rings around everyone” means? Is it an idioiomatic expression?

Rafa: It means writing better than everyone else.

The original expression is “running rings around everyone,” meaning being so good at running that you circle around others while they’re just trying to run in a straight line. You can substitute a lot of different verbs into that expression, depending on exactly what someone is particularly good at.

Of course, buttler usually writes zings around the rest of us, but that’s a different matter….

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